Scientists don’t write autobiographies. That’s strange, really, because in most cases they’re obliged to record everything they do in some sort of laboratory notebook for either patent or publication purposes. Here, though, we have an exception. In Confessions of a Hong Kong Naturalist, Graham Reels recounts 12 years of wading watercourses, slogging through swamps and beating about in the bushes of Hong Kong.

Writers of all stripes tend to dislike discussing their formative years and experiences. Getting to grips with the job of translating one’s understanding of a subject into something publishable tends to be painful enough, without then raking over the process in retrospect. This can lead to a sense, however, that somehow writers arrive fully-formed, with a gift for observation and understanding which requires little practice or refinement. This feeling can be particularly acute in regard to those who write on China, the “university in which no degree is ever granted”, to adapt Stanley Karnow’s phrase, where the gulf between ignorance and understanding often appears so vast.

There are various translations of the Life of Milarepa available, but since Garma C Chang issued his translation of the Hundred Thousand Songs in 1962, there has been a gap of more than fifty years, and Tibetan Buddhist scholarship has made a great deal of progress over that time, which makes 2017 an ideal year for a new translation of this work.